Coyote in Afghanistan

A Coyote armoured vehicle on patrol near Kandahar Airfield.


Read more: Photo Gallery

335. The Flowers of the Forest
by Trevor Royle
I have to admit, this book was a bit of a disappointment. Having read Scottish journalist Trevor Royle's book about Scotland and the Second World War, In Time of Tyrants, and knowing it was a follow-up to this one about the First World War, I had perhaps unrealistically high hopes. The Flowers of the Forest was after all a labour of love and In Time of Tyrants was probably the idea of either Royle's literary agent or his publisher. In Time of Tyrants was surprisingly light on military material but very interesting when it came to social, economic and political history. The Flowers of the Forest has more military material but there is little that would be new to anyone who was already interested in the First World War. I agree with Royle that the First World War was a game-changer for Scotland and possibly the country has never recovered from it. But perhaps it was just too big a topic and demanded more specialist knowledge than one man can possibly have. I'm fairly sure one quote attributed to a member of the South Staffordshire Regiment during the war actually originated from a soldier in the Derbyshire Regiment in 1897. This is a good book and I did learn some things - just not as much as I thought I would.

334. The Manner of Men
by Stuart Tootal
I think we have our first candidate for the 2017 Book of the Year. And I almost didn't bother picking this book about the 9th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in 1944 Normandy at all. I think the key is that author Stuart Tootal commanded a battalion of British paratroopers in Afghanistan and proved his writing chops by writing a very good book about the experience. So, it didn't take much effort for him to put himself in the shoes of the members of the 9th Battalion who were sent to destroy a key German artillery position which could have decimated British troops landing on the Normandy beaches. And as a paratrooper himself, he may have enjoyed a credibility with the veterans interviewed for the book that other writers might not enjoy. He weaves in the history of British airborne forces in the Second World War with introducing many of the main characters in the book during the training. He also has an insight into the battalion politics which cost the unit's commander his job shortly before it went into action. But as a former battalion commander, he also has a sympathy for the problems man accused of intriguing to get the job. The actual parachute drop was a disaster, with almost a third of the battalion drowned after the RAF dropped them into the flood waters of the River Dives. The storming of the battery with barely a company of men doing a full battalion's job was a close run thing. As was the lightly-armed battalion's defence of a vital part of the British flank against a vastly larger force of Germans supported by tanks and self-propelled guns trying to reach the D-Day beaches. The accounts of the fighting are harrowing and realistic without nudging over into pornography. Tootal is also able to take a sober and sensible view of the performance of the 5th Black Watch when it reinforced the 9th Battalion positions. I suspect as his time as an officer in the old Queen's Own Highlanders gave him similar insights to those he enjoyed as a parachute battalion commander. This is an incredible tale very well told. 

333. Eminent Victorian Soldiers
by Byron Farwell
American writer Byron Farwell takes a look at the lives and times of eight British generals who served during the reign of Queen Victoria. His choices of subject span from men who served under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War through to soldiers who played a part in the First World War. For the record, the men profiled are: Hugh Gough, Charles Napier, Charles Gordon, Frederick Roberts, Garnet Wolseley, Evelyn Wood, Hector Macdonald and Herbert Kitchener. Not all were admirable men or particularly good generals.  Farwell paints a fair enough pen portrait of each but sometimes his knowledge of the British Army lets him down and this casts a pall of doubt in the reader's mind over much that is probably true. I would not trust this book as a reference source. For example, there was no regiment called the 76th Highlanders in the late 1700s; nor was the 75th Foot considered a Highland regiment during the Indian Mutiny of 1857; the Gordon Highlanders were not part of the Highland Brigade in December 1899 and Sir William Robertson was not the son of a Scottish crofter. But Farwell's book is informative and thought-provoking. I would put this down as a good try that needed just a little more work. Farwell perhaps exaggerates Hector "Fighting Mac" Macdonald's abilities as a general and a little more research would have turned up numerous examples of his performance as commander of the Highland Brigade in 1900 being criticised. I am not sure that Farwell did not see this book as an easy "not much more research required" spin-off from his successful Queen Victoria's Little Wars.

Read more: Book Briefing

Pension Misery Highlighted

The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme. 

Double Bill

The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.

Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?

The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.

Irish Terrorism in Canada

In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known.  Dynamite Dillon

Also see - Dorchester Review

Canadian Interest

The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.


The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot  contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.

Double Spread

It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War

Read more: Paul's News

Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –

Neil Wilson Publishing


The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fails to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?

Read more: The Great Kiltie Con

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